The Hollow Man by Paul Hollis

by | Apr 8, 2021 | Author | 0 comments

The inspiration for my storyline comes from a series of true incidents that occurred during the early 1970’s. The Hollow Man traces some of my lesser known exploits traveling in Europe as a young man. To make a long story short, I met a guy in early 1973 who thought I was wasting my time digging latrines in East Africa for the Peace Corp. He had a better offer for me.

At the time, terrorism was on the rise and I was assigned to learn as much as I could about it. I was to gather intelligence specific people and plans in Europe that might bring terror to our shores here or otherwise go against U.S. worldwide interests. When I collected the information, I was supposed to turn it over to the professionals for final resolution, people who operated outside of U.S. borders. That’s how it was supposed to work. But when you’re young, wild, and untrained, things don’t always go according to plan. Here’s the environment I was working in:

Most early acts of terror were specific, personal and damage was focused on a distinct, definable enemy. But by the early 1970’s / terrorism was beginning to change its strategy to the familiar, senseless chaos we now recognize. The death of political figures no longer seemed to bother us as much as these new, random attacks against our children we see today. Targets of innocence became preferable to politicians because it was this kind of shock and hurt that hit the hearts of us normal human beings. The fear inside us grew larger with each incident.

Right now, you’re probably wondering how I got myself into such a situation. In college, I honestly majored in “Staying Out of Vietnam” with no particular future ambitions. I entered my advanced education at the end of 1967 and fell into a blossoming subculture that reshaped my reality, figuratively and perhaps a little too literally. There were a number of world changing events during that time and here I was participating in the 1968 Democratic convention protests, the Chicago 7 trials, and hanging with new world prophets like Carlos Santana, Garcia, and Grace Slick in the Haight. Then there was Woodstock. There’s an old saying, “if you remember the ‘60’s, you weren’t there.” But there are some things you never forget. I remember what being 19 years old was like. I remember being hungry, buzzed, and pumped on adrenaline at the most memorable music festival of all time. I was wet and dirty at the same time. We shared what we had and only took what we needed. I remember dancing to the non-stop music permeating it all. What I don’t remember, is another time like that.

After university I joined the Peace Corps as an alternative to war. Within 48 hours the sun rose over my initial training in Paintsville Kentucky, just off the Cumberland Plateau and a stone’s throw from the Lost World of West Virginia. A month into my training, I realized they weren’t kidding, so I jumped at an unexpected opportunity to see Africa. Lions and tigers had seemed preferable to dinosaurs, but not by much as it turned out. Before the week was over, I stood knee deep in mud and some kind of animal dung, completely immersed in my new position. Literally. The job I’d so eagerly accepted entailed digging latrines with a flat-nosed shovel during monsoon season. Feeling lost and abandoned at the edge of a rain-soaked crust of earth called Tanzania, I couldn’t tell if I was crying or if it was just raining harder.

Enter a man with a slick story and three months of training. My new “handler” offered me unrestricted travel through Europe with an occasional venture into watching, learning, and reporting on terrorist activities. It sounded better than what I had but it was a decision I rethought many times during my training under a U.S. Marine instructor. I did actually quit about 100 times during a two week survival training venture into the mountains with Italian Special Forces. Eating tarantulas over an open fire made me beg to go to Vietnam. I’m still not sure what spiders had to do with restaurant cuisine in Europe since I never saw one on a menu there. And thus began my first tour of Europe and The Hollow Man was born.

The target audience for The Hollow Man is any reader who wants to be completely immersed, drawn totally into each scene. I want my readers to experience what’s going on around them, feel the excitement, and hear the voices. In order to make that happen, I believe realistic dialog is key, beyond description and story. Dialog is what makes characters come to life. Readers may skip parts of the description, scenery, and story but for some reason they always seem to be drawn into what characters say. It has to be believable and has to use words the way people speak, complete with contractions (or lack thereof), slang, accents, hesitations, word selections, physical actions while speaking, etc. Each combination is unique and specific to that one character. When you get that right, your character walks off the page and enters the reader’s imagination.

The same applies to location. It has to be real. It’s important to take the reader along for the full ride. Each location provides its own set of rules in which characters must make decisions. Characters are challenged by location – language, culture and people around them. Location also creates the mood of the story which helps shape emotions that a reader experiences. It’s important for the reader to “feel” the environment around them whether it is the proverbial mist of fog in London, the taste of French cuisine, or the excitement of bullfighting in Spain.

The Hollow Man offers a unique viewpoint for readers. The “spy” in this book is an untested beginner at his trade, certainly not the Bond or Bourne type elite spies who are fast with their fists, quick with a trigger, and loose with the ladies. Doc, the main character, is young and impulsive, not talented or tested and never quite seems to follow orders very well.

Thank you to Authors’ Lounge for giving me the opportunity to tell my story.

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